un soldier dead 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
With just two weeks until congressional elections, the White House sought to ease political anxieties about security in Iraq but rejected calls from US lawmakers for a dramatic policy shift.
The Nov. 7 elections will determine whether Republicans retain control of Congress, and lawmakers in both the Republican and Democratic parties are calling on President George W. Bush to change his war plans.
"We're on the verge of chaos, and the current plan is not working," Sen. Lindsey Graham said in an Associated Press interview. US and Iraqi officials should be held accountable for the lack of progress, said Graham, a Republican who is a frequent critic of the administration's policies.
Asked who in particular should be held accountable - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, perhaps, or the generals leading the war - Graham said: "All of them. It's their job to come up with a game plan" to end the violence.
Bush, in a CNBC television interview, said, "Well, I've been talking about a change in tactics ever since I - ever since we went in, because the role of the commander in chief is to say to our generals, `You adjust to the enemy on the battlefield."'
White House press secretary Tony Snow said the United States would adjust its Iraq strategy but would not issue any ultimatums to the Iraqis. "Are there dramatic shifts in policy? The answer is no," Snow said Monday.
He acknowledged, however, that Bush no longer is saying that the United States will "stay the course" in Iraq.
"He stopped using it," Snow said of that phrase, adding that it left the impression that the administration was not adjusting its strategy to realities in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, US officials in Iraq said Tuesday that government leaders there have agreed to develop a timeline by the end of the year for progress in stabilizing Iraq and reducing violence that has killed 300 Iraqi troops during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan alone.
Gen. George Casey, the top US commander who appeared at a news conference with US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, also said Iraqi forces should be able to take control of security in the next 12 to 18 months with minimal American support.
Casey also said he felt the United States should continue to focus on drawing down the number of American forces in the country, adding that he would not hesitate to ask for more troops if he felt they were necessary.
Showing progress in Iraq is critical because the approaching elections are widely viewed as a referendum on the war.
Rumsfeld, in remarks at the Pentagon, said US government and military officials were working with Iraq to set a broad timetable for Iraqis to take over 16 provinces still being controlled by US troops. But he said officials were not talking about penalizing the Iraqis if they don't hit certain benchmarks.
The Iraqis have taken control of two southern provinces but have been slow to take the lead in others, particularly those around Baghdad and in the volatile regions north and west of the capital. Rumsfeld said specific target dates probably will not be set.
Rumsfeld visited the White House early Monday with Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rumsfeld said the United States was looking at when the Iraqis would move close to setting up a reconciliation process to help quell worsening sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites.